Catholicism Condemns Chileans to Epidemic

Catholicism Condemns Chileans to Epidemic

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Concurrent to the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C., the OAS pledged to dismantle the stigma and discrimination attached to being an HIV-positive individual in Latin America. One country, however, stands out among others in the hemisphere for the appalling manner in which it addresses HIV/AIDS. Though often hailed as a bastion of progress in Latin America, Chile hosts some of the most backward social and policy constructs regarding HIV/AIDS treatment in Latin America.  The Andean nation’s limited attempts at reform have proven ineffectual and has taken few substantial steps to prevent the virus from spreading while also putting in place a number of extremely problematic treatment practices.(1)

Source: First News

In 2001, when reports counted 24,000 HIV-positive individuals in Chile, Santiago realized the potential for an epidemic and passed a law to protect HIV-positive civilians. Law No. 19.779 guarantees the equality for infected persons in all aspects of life as well as healthcare policies for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of HIV. According to this legislation, HIV-positive citizens are explicitly allowed access to healthcare such as blood tests, antiretroviral therapy, and hospitalization. However, the law only applies to the public healthcare sector, which makes up 76 percent of the industry.(2) Additionally, this measure been poorly implemented and has  done very little to prevent the spread of HIV as the number of cases almost doubled in the past decade to 40,000.(3)

The hostile stance of the Catholic Church in Chile towards contraception as well as its negative portrayal of homosexuals and HIV-positive individuals has contributed to the lack of protection methods and a progressive approach to treatment. With 63 percent of the population identifying as Catholic, many Chileans also carry the Church’s opinions and consider sexual education and contraceptive usage as taboos and condemn all homosexual acts.(4) As a result, condom usage is highly frowned upon and often associated with infidelity and promiscuity. (5) Individuals who are HIV-positive still face discrimination from the general populace and in the health sector. La Fundación Ideas’ 2002 Survey reported that 30 percent of Chileans believe that HIV-positive people should not be allowed to interact with the rest of society.(6) 

Source: Neil Birch

Homosexuals and transgender individuals in the Chilean prison system often experience inhumane treatment and are frequently denied medical care. At Colina prison in Santiago, 37 homosexuals prisoners were required to submit to an involuntarily blood test for HIV/AIDS. Although it was already documented that 22 of the men were HIV-positive, the procedure was conducted with only 10 unsterilized needles.  As a result, the other 15 HIV-negative inmates contracted the disease.(7) The case was brought to the attention of the Chilean government by human rights groups, but was systematically ignored. Within two years, two of the infected had died while the rest suffered in an isolated cellblock where they endured inhumane treatment.(8)

Over a decade later, another HIV related scandal was uncovered resulting in the resignation of the Chilean health minister. Between 2004 and 2008, there were 1,876 instances in which medical services never notified patients that they were HIV-positive.(9) Most of these cases unfolded in private medical clinics; yet, 27 percent of the tests were conducted at public facilities. After the scandal broke, the government promised to notify all of the infected as quietly and confidentially as possible. Santiago, however, failed to keep its word and in one outrageous instance, two medical officials dramatically arrived at the patient’s place of work to inform him that he was HIV-positive in front of his employer.(10)

There have also been several cases of forced or coerced sterilizations of HIV-positive women following childbirth. In an infamous case, doctors sterilized a woman who went by the alias Francisa without consent while she was under anesthesia during a cesarean delivery.(11) In 2007, Francisa filed a lawsuit against the hospital that preformed the unlawful sterilization. This case, however, was dropped without the option of appeal.(12) In 2004, a study conducted by VIVO POSITIVO demonstrated that this, sadly, was not an isolated incident. The study showed that medical staff coerced 29 percent of HIV-positive women to undergo sterilization and sterilized another 12 percent without their consent. Additionally, many women undergoing treatment for HIV reported that medical officials exaggerated the risk of transmission from mother to child during pregnancy.  Yet with proper care, the mother to child transmission rate is only 2 percent.

Source: Eagle-Vision

Last year, the Chilean legislature made HIV testing for pregnant women obligatory which has resulted in protests as many women rightly claim that the measure violates the right of women to make decisions regarding their own bodies.(13) There is also the fear that medical officials will attempt unwanted sterilizations after a mother gives birth.(14) The law certainly constitutes a violation of women’s rights, as it feminizes the disease and fails to address the larger HIV-positive male population. It exasperates the rampant discrimination against HIV-positive individuals in the health care system and ignores the critical lack of resources for treatment. Making matters worse, medical institutions often fail to provide accurate sexual education and neglect to give the legally mandated consultation prior to HIV testing, often administrating the test without the patient’s knowledge.(15)

If Chile is serious about containing and eradicating HIV/AIDS, it must first properly educate its citizens about the virus and prevention methods. Additionally, Santiago must work to combat the stigma surrounding condom usage, promote equal rights for the homosexual community, and provide better access to resources, health care, and education. In regards to the HIV-positive population of Chile, proper treatments must be afforded to patients without any form of discrimination. A more tolerant environment would help slow the spread of the disease by prompting increasing numbers of Chileans to undergo HIV tests. While a strong Catholic tradition and misconceptions about the disease are deeply embedded in Chilean society, the state and other secular institutions must take the lead and begin making the necessary reforms to address this public health and human rights crisis.

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Citations:

(1) OAS. “Organizations join efforts to fight discrimination and stigma  related to HIV” OAS.  July 25, 2012. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2012/095.asp

(2) Cianelli, Rosina. Ferrer, Lilian. Norr, Kathleen. Linda McCreary. Irarrazabal, Lisette. Barnales, Margarita. Miner, Sarah. “ Stigma Related to HIV among Community Health Workers in Chile” Stigma Research and Action, Vol 1, No 1, 3-10. 2011. Accessed July 30, 2012. 4pg. http://stigmaj.org/article/view/11/PDF

(3) “HIV/AIDS statistics in Chile”  Find the Data. 2011. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://hiv-statistics.findthedata.org/l/165/Chile

(4) “Religion”  Pontifiaca Universidad Catolica de Chile. 2011. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www7.uc.cl/encuestabicentenario/encuestas/2011/pdfs/religion.pdf

(5) Center for Reproductive Rights.“Dignity Denied: Violations of the Rights of HIV- positive women in Chilean Health Facilities” 2010. Accessed July 30, 2012.

(6) “Chile: Whether the government organization CONASIDA only helps terminally ill patients; availability of health care to HIV-positive homosexual men; whether medication is being denied to HIV-positive individuals based upon their sexual orientation; whether positive results of HIV tests are reported by doctors and hospitals to the government and to the patient’s employer; treatment of HIV-positive individuals by employers; legislation preventing the dismissal of HIV-positive individuals; attitude of the general population toward those who are HIV-positive (1997 – present)” Immigration and Review broad of Canada. May 16, 2003. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,,QUERYRESPONSE,CHL,,3f7d4d6ae,0.html

(7) “Chile: Prison Officials Complicit in Possible HIV Infection of Gay Prisoners.”  Take Action.  November 6, 1996.  Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/resourcecenter/83.html

(8) “Chilean Politican says prison medics Infected Inmates with HIV”  The New York Times. August 13 1996.  Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/13/world/chilean-politician-says-prison-medics-infected-inmates-with-hiv.html

(9)“Chile: HIV positive prisoners die while the States Continues to Deny them Medical Care” May 1, 1998.  Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/globalactionalerts/50.html

(10) Bonniefoy, Pascale. Barrionuevo, Alexei. “Nearly 2,000 carrying HIV in Chile were not notified” The New York Times. November 18, 2008.  Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/americas/14chile.html?_r=1

“Chile HIV error minister resigns” BBC News. October 29, 2008. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7696675.stm

Estrada, Daniela. “Chile: 512 HIV- positive people not notified.” IPS.  November 13, 2008. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://globalgeopolitics.net/wordpress/2008/11/13/chile-512-hiv-positive-people-not-notified/

(11) Bonniefoy, Pascale. Barrionuevo, Alexei. “Nearly 2,000 carrying HIV in Chile were not notified” The New York Times. November 18, 2008.  Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/14/world/americas/14chile.html?_r=1

(12) Center for Reproductive Rights.“Dignity Denied: Violations of the Rights of HIV- positive women in Chilean Health Facilities” 2010. Accessed July 30, 2012.

(13) “Chile: Forcibly Sterilized Women Files International Case” Huffington Post.  March 9, 2012. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/03/chile-forcibly-sterilized_n_163565.html

(14) Estrada, Daniela. Muscara Aprille. “Chile: Women Sterilized Over HIV Status” Upside Down World. October 22, 2010. Accessed July 30, 2012. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/2747-chile-women-sterilized-over-hiv-status

(15) “Greatest Setback in Public Policy on HIV/AIDS since military dictatorship.” Latin America and Caribbean Women’s Health Network.  November, 14, 2011. Accessed July 31, 2012. http://www.reddesalud.org/news/act4_int.php?id=132

Center for Reproductive Rights.“Dignity Denied: Violations of the Rights of HIV- positive women in Chilean Health Facilities” 2010. Accessed July 30, 2012.

“Greatest Setback in Public Policy on HIV/AIDS since military dictatorship.” Latin America and Caribbean Women’s Health Network.  November, 14, 2011. Accessed July 31, 2012. http://www.reddesalud.org/news/act4_int.php?id=132

Center for Reproductive Rights.“Dignity Denied: Violations of the Rights of HIV- positive women in Chilean Health Facilities” 2010. Accessed July 30, 2012.